It may have been two familiar decks in the finals of Grand Prix Pittsburgh, but it was two unfamiliar faces wielding them as the tournament drew to a close in the steel city and Ryan Hare squared off against Bronson Gervasi.
And were they excited. Well, at least quietly excited. Every final table is different, and the atmosphere can range from loud and boisterous to silent and determined depending on who is sitting in those two coveted seats that many players – even pros – can fail to reach even after years and years of playing the game at a high level.
While this wasn’t a loud final table, the two took a few moments before the match began to congratulate each other on their first Grand Prix Top 8 with a knowing fist bump.
It may not have been the best deck at the Pro Tour last week, but Black-Green undeniably took over that crown heading into Grand Prix Pittsburgh. Most of the pros in the room were on the deck, and after a week of dominance on Magic Online — largely preying on the Mardu Vehicles deck won the Pro Tour in Dublin — Black-Green was target No. 1 in Pennsylvania.
That, or just play it, as Hare chose to do.
Across the table was a familiar foe: Mardu Vehicles, which Gervasi had expertly piloted through a field that had considered itself prepared to beat it. Still, the deck’s explosiveness combined with resiliency in the form of planeswalkers and Scrapheap Scrounger, had been enough to see it through the Top 8.
“I don’t understand why the other builds aren’t playing Nissa," Gervasi wondered aloud as Hare landed the three-mana planeswalker at the earliest opportunity. “It’s so good."
That it was. Gervasi’s Thalia, Heretic Cathar was a strong play on the third turn, but it paled in comparison to the Winding Constrictor into Nissa into Rishkar, Peema Renegade. When Nissa ticked down to provide counters to Hare’s team, the one activation was worth a full six points on power on the board.
That forced Gervasi onto the back foot immediately, and he landed a second Veteran Motorist to try and dig deeper into his deck for an answer. But in the meantime, Nissa sacrificed herself for the team, minusing again to add another six power to the board. Gervasi was forced to trade three creatures for just one Winding Constrictor, and he scooped up his cards when the next draw step failed to yield anything relevant.
Gervasi had access to much better options after sideboarding, as he brought in planeswalkers and additional removal to try and match up with the board-clogging ability the black-green deck presented.
He would need every piece of it, as Hare again had a second-turn Winding Constrictor followed by three straight Walking Ballista, which proceeded to systematically dismantle his board of two Veteran Motorist. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar stemmed the bleeding, but when Fatal Push took out Aethersphere Harvester Gideon wasn’t far behind.
Things were looking dire for Gervasi, and he needed a big play. Fortunately, that was exactly what he had with the biggest vehicle of them all (flavor-wise, anyway): Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. It took down the Snake to set up an even bigger removal spell in Fumigate on the next turn.
The board now clear, the Skysovereign took over when Scrapheap Scrounger arrived to crew it. Two attack steps later and Gervasi had climbed out of a deep hole to force a deciding game three.
If game two had been swingy, game three was downright epic. Early creatures traded, but thanks to Nissa, Voice of Zendikar the board soon began to swing Hare’s way once Grasp of Darkness allowed him to take out Gervasi’s Gideon. When planeswalkers collide, the player who walks away with one at the end typically finds themselves firmly in control, and this game was no different. Things became truly dire for Gervasi when Waking Ballista and then Rishkar joined the board for Hare.
But what the Black-Green player didn’t know was that Gervasi had been planning this for several turns, and that his chump blocks weren’t a sign of despair but of strategy. Veteran Motorist kept a land on top of Gervasi’s deck, and he cracked a clue on his main phase to draw the land and put it into play tapped.
The reason soon became clear, and Gervasi unleashed a devastating Fumigate on the next turn, taking down four of Hare’s creatures before following it up with a Gideon.
Mardu Vehicles may be an aggressive deck, but it was Gervasi’s wielding it like a control deck that put him on the precipice of victory. With creatures and a planeswalker in play and an Unlicensed Disintegration in hand, he was seemingly just a few turns away from pulling off the upset. Sylvan Advocate was all Hare had to follow up, and when the removal spell took down Aethersphere Harvester, things were nearing a conclusion.
But Hare had plans of his own. Flaying Tendrils took out Gervasi’s creatures — including removing Scrapheap Scrounger forever — and again the board stood at parity, with Sylvan Advocate eating a Gideon token every turn as players looked to find a finishing blow. Despite the devastating Fumigate, Hare had worked himself back into the game.
Then began the string of draws that Hare will remember forever. Verdurous Gearhulk arrived, and when it and Sylvan Advocate attacked on the next turn, a freshly drawn Grasp of Darkness allowed him to take out Gideon and Gervasi’s creatures at the same time.
Just like that, things had swung back. And when Gervasi’s draw step failed to turn up the second Fumigate, just like that he dropped his cards and put out his hand, congratulating Ryan Hare on becoming the champion of Grand Prix Pittsburgh.